The pandemic is a portal we create

Aug. 19, 2020

We have just opened a portal with a petition which calls for an alternative education program that follows the requirements of safe and quality education for all. Specifically, it is calling for an alternative program that “fits the current situation of Filipinos and is relevant amidst the pandemic; gives students who couldn’t enroll a chance to learn when they are financially ready; primarily considers the safety of teachers, students, and parents; does not burden them of strict requirements, evaluation, and grading system; and that which helps the youth face and overcome the challenges brought about by the pandemic.”

While it is urgent to call for an alternative education program, it is equally urgent to seize this chance to call for and work on the overhaul of our education system which is currently patterned after the demands of the global market.

Schools are run like factories to produce professionals who will then maintain exploitative systems. Learning is broken down into special subjects which obscures sight of bigger societal pictures. Students are misled to chase after superficial recognitions. Teachers are trained to become faithful followers and implementers of questionable policies. School is believed to free the mind while what it currently does is contain thinking within standardized curricula. As a state apparatus, it becomes a convenient conduit for narratives designed to keep the status quo. School is believed to “civilize” people while it is the ruling elite having studied in the finest schools who perpetuate and benefit from unjust policies.

Considering online learning as a dominantly viable way of pushing through with formal education amid the pandemic endangers many of falling victim to yet another neoliberal trap.

For technocrats, the pandemic is a portal for more profit. More online learning software will surely appear soon, posing as necessities. Meanwhile, stories of precarity keep on surfacing as we approach the supposed opening of classes. Some teachers in Davao De Oro went viral online for having set up tents by the roadside to get a signal for a DepEd-organized webinar. A student in Albay took his own life due to impending costs of distance learning. A girl was raped while others exchange their nude photos for and commit other illicit activities over a promise of gadget also for online distance learning. These are only a few among many other long-standing problems in Philippine education which the pandemic has magnified.

Assuming the accessibility of gadgets and internet connection for teachers and learners, would online learning work well for Filipinos? Palatino (2020) articulates it best in Pedagogy of the Digitally Oppressed: “This has harmful consequences to students who might wrongly assume that their life stories have to garner social media boosting as a prerequisite for acceptance in society. Or they could disown their local cultures, habits, and ideologies because they diverge from the popular norm. They might reject their framing of the world because it does not adhere to existing categories or it is deemed archaic for digital sharing.” This threat of cultural erosion is just one step into the further neoliberalization of education. With the temptation into the internet’s endless pit of content, online learning may just create a digital barrier between students and their socio-political contexts.

Why would we wish to continue with the old system when we can push for an overhaul?

Originally set on August 24, the opening of classes has been moved to October 5. While less than two months may provide more time for preparation, it can only do so much if we wish to seize this chance for significant reforms. If we demand more time, educators and curriculum developers can focus on designing and drafting an alternative education program–tailored to the needs of Filipino learners–that would not only be applicable during the pandemic but can also be incorporated with or completely alter the existing one. Calsado (2020) gives a good example of improving the curriculum in Lumad schools in Decolonising STEM Curriculum: Citizen Science and the Lumad STEM Curriculum: “Using a ‘science for the people’ framework, indigenous communities together with STEM workers can decolonize the STEM curriculum. This is the core aim of the MMS framework employed in the Lumad community schools’ curriculum—to realize the value of local and indigenous knowledge systems, and to meld those systems with mainstream knowledge.”

Meanwhile, legislators could also use a longer time to lobby even just a few provisions from the proposal into a bill. With the DepEd’s recent blunder in its test broadcast for TV-assisted distance learning, a longer time can also be helpful in developing not only quality but also relevant teaching-learning materials.

Worrying that student learning will “stop” if formal schooling stops is worrisome itself, for learning happens even without institutional interventions. While educators, curriculum developers, and legislators are preparing and lobbying for an alternative education program, students can start unlearning things instilled by the current education system designed just to export labor and serve capitalistic interests. Not worrying about lessons, tasks, and grades, students can focus on reconnecting to society, processing the discourse of their immediate reality–the pandemic’s urgent threat to health and the current regime’s threat to sovereignty–from which the walls of the school have already alienated them. Learning outside the limitations of standardized curricula, students have a chance to explore beyond dominant narratives.

While it is only logical to say that complete educational overhaul can only happen upon the realization of socio-economic reforms, it is equally logical to seize this chance to work on its initiation.

“The pandemic is a portal,” says writer Arundhati Roy. But this portal is not something we must simply enter. It is something we create. (

Roma Estrada has taught for ten years in different high schools and universities. She also writes for Gantala Press, Ibong Adorno, and Concerned Artists of the Philippines. Currently maintaining a column for Davao Today, she also co-edited LILA, a poetry anthology by women, and Kult, a collection of capsule critiques. Her other works can be read in the anthologies Umaalma, Kumikibo (Gantala Press, 2018) and Sigwa: Climate Fiction Anthology from the Philippines, forthcoming from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines Press. Reach her at

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